Brown River Queen cover art

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Art of Tweeting in the Rain

Twitter is one of those things that sounded completely ridiculous the first time I heard it described.

Say anything you want to anyone who will listen, as long as you can say it in less than 140 characters.

Listen, I can barely mumble good morning in less than 140 characters. And the list of people with any interest whatsoever in hearing me wish them good morning can be counted on two fingers. One, even.

So I laughed and put Twitter out of my mind, until one day I was confronted with a deep, profound Truth concerning Twitter that shook me to my very core.

Did I suddenly comprehend that Twitter was an emerging, powerful social engine that would fundamentally alter the very exchange of ideas? Was I overcome with an epiphany which left me nearly blinded by the sheer magnitude and depth of the impact Twitter is having on language itself? Did I suddenly feel connected in a profound new way to millions of my fellow humans as we struggle together on this painful journey we call life?


I learned an effective Twitter presence was a good way to sell books.

I should really qualify that statement. What I learned was that Twitter is an effective way for some authors to sell books.  I naturally assumed that since I have, on numerous occasions, composed sentences in the 140 character range, that I'd be a shoo-in for Twitter superstardom.

Upon reflection, I'm relegating that particular assumption to the same dusty bin that holds a number of other assumptions which failed to survive their head-on collision with reality.  Most notable of these assumptions is that Volkswagen Beetles will float -- they most certainly do not, and I have the experiential knowledge to prove it -- but I digress.

Suffice it to say that my climb from Twitter obscurity to anything resembling notoriety has been, um, fraught with challenge.

Turns out it's not easy to sell books on Twitter at all.

Not that there aren't lots of authors out there trying.  And I feel for them, I really do, but after the sixth or eighth time I see the same For the Love of Pete BUY MY BOOK tweet repeated my finger is already clicking the dread UNFOLLOW button.

So if strident repetition of titles doesn't work, what next?

Some strive for complex, deep snippets of philosophy or social commentary, each designed to leave the reader reeling at the mere force of the author's intellect.

I'm more a knock-knock joke kind of guy, and I never spell Nietzsche right, so that path wasn't my best choice either.

So, comedy it was.  I fired up my Twitter dashboard and...


...and sat there for most of November.  Being funny on demand in 140 characters is a lot like trying to jump out of bed in the middle of the night and belt out a big Broadway song and dance routine with no rehearsal, no back-up singers, and no do-overs. I still have nightmares about that. And for the record, lots of grown men sleep in footie pajamas.

So I floundered around like any Twitter newb, alternating between lame lunch-menu posts and thinly veiled plugs for my books.

But somewhere along the way, I started to get the hang of Twitter, and I did that by shutting my mouth (so to speak) and listening, instead of typing.

What I found was a vibrant, hilarious crew of Twitters who riff off each other and the news and books and pretty much everything else to create an endless, multi-faceted conversation.

My tweet stream is often fascinating. Neil Gaiman talks about books and reading, while the Voyager spacecraft note their positions and activities and the stars of Leverage talk about acting and films. I can keep up with the writing careers of a couple dozen authors, some big names, some further down the sales totem pole than me.  I get news before the networks. I can see what the ISS crew is up to at any given moment.  There's an anonymous New York editor who rails and rants about the horrors of his slush pile.

In short, it's a blast.

Does it sell me any books?

Frankly, Scarlet, I don't have a clue.  I've stopped worrying about that.  Sure, I'll mention it when a new one comes out.  But if I've learned one thing about Twitter, it's this -- pretend it's a party.  Strangers are milling around everywhere, smiling, talking, trying to find the shrimp tray.

You don't want to be that guy who corners people and tries to sell them something.  It's a party. They didn't sign up for sales pitches. So relax. Listen more than you talk. Measure your words when you do speak. If you tell a joke, make sure it's funny.

Now go join Twitter and start tweeting -- right after you buy one of my books!

Hey, this isn't Twitter...